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European Council: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 926 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Willie Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose Zoom on Willie Penrose] As the UK and Ireland often found themselves on the same side in debates on critical decisions, a valuable ally will be lost in terms of future arguments. As my colleagues have mentioned, huge issues arise for this country with regard to the North and the South, the common travel area, the absence of customs and trade barriers and, of course, the Good Friday Agreement. From the agricultural perspective there are issues relating to bio-security and veterinary check and inspections, which are very important. All of these issues will require sustained argument and planning to achieve our objectives, which should be clearly spelt out.

What will happen following Brexit will remain a matter of conjecture and speculation. We are in a vacuum until the trigger is pulled next March. After that, I foresee a further period that will create grave uncertainty. We know how important trade is to our economy at all levels. That must be the focus of significant attention, and I acknowledge that the Taoiseach has set up interdepartmental groups to work on that. More than €1 billion worth of goods and services are traded between Ireland and the UK every week and 40% of our exported goods arrive into the UK market. Our food, drinks and agriculture industries are highly dependent on the maintenance of this trade in a free flowing fashion. The imposition of trade tariffs would have a disastrous and negative impact.

With regard to the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and I am the Labour Party spokesperson on agriculture, the UK makes an €11 billion contribution to the EU budget. That is significant. The loss of this funding will have a significant impact on our CAP benefits, which will become the subject of renegotiation in 2019. We receive €1.2 billion in single farm payments, so that is another area that undoubtedly will be the focus of attention at the relevant time. There are a number of mushroom producers in my constituency. That industry sustained significant losses immediately. Three major mushroom producers have gone to the wall and two more are in the departure lounge, as it were, due to that impact. I was disappointed that some emergency measures were not brought forward in the budget. I believe that if the mushroom industry is assisted now in a short-term manner, it will be in a position to survive and continue. There were over 600 mushroom producers in the country ten to 12 years ago, now there are just over 60. The number has declined, although they have increased in scale. The industry involves high volume production but very little profit, and the currency situation has impacted it significantly in a negative way.

I cannot understand why we have not done what was done five or six years ago, whereby the PRSI rate for people in the industry could have been reduced from 8.5% to 4.25%. That would have had a significant impact. I implore the Taoiseach to ensure that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, examines this as a temporary arrangement to ensure the survival of the mushroom industry. A total of 85% of its exports go to the UK, so it will be significantly affected over the next couple of years. We must help it now. It is no use crying crocodile tears when it collapses.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I appreciate that the Taoiseach has remained in the House, as I realise he is busy and probably in a hurry to leave. I will set aside the normal political debate we might have in a debate such as this and raise a specific and urgent issue on which I hope there can be all-party agreement to take action. It could make a real difference to a very vulnerable group of people.

The Taoiseach is aware, and he referred to it in his contribution, of Ireland's commitment to take in refugees, and specifically unaccompanied minors. The demolition of the Calais "Jungle" is currently under way. There are 10,000 refugees in the camp, including over 1,000 unaccompanied minors who are in serious danger. Fires are raging in Calais as we speak. The last time a part of the Calais "Jungle" was knocked down, 200 unaccompanied minors disappeared, so there is an urgent issue at stake. A group called Not On Our Watch, which is endorsed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy and led by a great campaigner for refugees, Gary Daly, is liaising with an Irish woman, Karen Moynihan, who has been working in Calais specifically with unaccompanied minors. This morning it asked Members of the Oireachtas to take action on this and to liaise with Karen to try and save 200 of these young, unaccompanied minors by relocating them to Ireland. This would save them from the serious prospect and danger that they might disappear, as happened the last time, and be subject to trafficking, exploitation and degradation of a sort that is unthinkable for children but which has happened in recent times.

The campaign has drafted a motion which will be circulated to Members in the next hour. Representatives of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Deputy Clare Daly's office attended the briefing and have given agreement in principle to sign up to the campaign. We are hoping the Government will sign up to it as well, pass the motion and give a commitment to contact its French counterpart immediately. The motion hopes that the Taoiseach's Department might do this, taking a lead from the top, and contact the French authorities with an offer to relocate 200 of these children. They are currently in serious danger because of the fires that are raging and the potential consequences of the dissolution of the camp. If we act now, we could save and transform the lives of these young, unaccompanied children.

It would not cost us anything, which should be emphasised. We were told in this morning's briefing that 800 Irish families have contacted the Irish Red Cross and said they are willing to take unaccompanied minors into foster care. The families are ready to do this and there is an Irish woman, Karen Moynihan, in the camp who knows the children. She can vouch for their age and knows them personally, so we have a straight direct line to the children who are now in danger. The motion asks that the Taoiseach contact his French counterpart to make this offer, which is in line with our previously stated commitment to give refuge to unaccompanied minors, and asks that Tusla, youth services and other State agencies would co-ordinate with Karen Moynihan to identify these children and get them over here.

It is a very straightforward request, and it is in line with the Government's stated policy and commitment. Whatever difficulties there might be in identifying children in Italy and Greece, we can identify them in this case because we have people who are working with them. The motion will be circulated and I hope the Taoiseach will give serious consideration to supporting it and taking this campaign on board. The motion is from the campaign, not from us. Hopefully, we can sign off on it and get that commitment as soon as possible.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Sinn Féin supports the motion.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry Last week, five Kurdish migrants were found in a shipping container in Wexford. One of them was a three year old girl. They had made an 18 hour journey from Cherbourg in a sealed container containing perishable goods. The migrant camp at Calais currently being dismantled contains 1,300 unaccompanied children according to some estimates. As my colleague has explained, these children are at extreme risk of exploitation and trafficking. How many lone children has the Government committed to taking in this year? The answer is 20.

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